Sunday, January 12, 2020

Daf Yomi Idea Berachos 8a: Giving up on those who need something different

The Gemara on page 8a states (from here):
וְאָמַר רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַמֵּי מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּעוּלָּא: לְעוֹלָם יָדוּר אָדָם בִּמְקוֹם רַבּוֹ, שֶׁכָּל זְמַן שֶׁשִּׁמְעִי בֶּן גֵּרָא קַיָּים, לֹא נָשָׂא שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת בַּת פַּרְעֹה.
And Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Ami said in the name of Ulla: One should always live in the place where his teacher lives; thereby he will avoid sin. For as long as Shimi ben Gera, who according to tradition was a great Torah scholar and teacher of Solomon (see Gittin 59a), was alive, Solomon did not marry Pharaoh’s daughter. Immediately after the Bible relates the death of Shimi (I Kings, end of ch. 2), Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter is recorded (beginning of ch. 3).
וְהָתַנְיָא אַל יָדוּר!
The Gemara raises an objection: Wasn’t it taught in a baraita that one should not live where his teacher lives?
לָא קַשְׁיָא, הָא דִּכְיִיף לֵיהּ, הָא, דְּלָא כְּיִיף לֵיהּ.
The Gemara answers: This is not difficult. This, which says that one should live where his teacher lives, is referring to a case where he is acquiescent to his teacher and will heed his teaching and instruction. While this baraita, which says that one should not live where his teacher lives, is referring to a case where he is not acquiescent to him and that will lead them to quarrel.

The question to this teaching of the Gemara that should be obvious is; who cares if they quarrel? If following one's teacher is the right thing to do, you should live by them no matter what. Even if you will quarrel with your teacher, you are still being exposed to the correct guidance. One might even argue that it is more important for a quarrelsome person to live near their teacher!

To this inherent question Rashi offers a seemingly simple answer:

If he will acquiesce to his teacher's guidance, to accept his rebuke, then [the student] should live by the teacher. However, if he will not [listen to the rebuke or guidance of his teacher,] he should live far away from his teacher and thereby perform inappropriate deeds through negligence instead of deliberately.
This statement of Rashi actually has a very profound attitude attached to it that, I believe, is often missed and I personally disagree with.

Rashi's statement on the surface seems to make a lot of sense. If you are someone who will not listen to your Rabbi, then you should remove yourself from purposefully causing pain to your teacher and sinning against his words and guidance. However, on a deeper examination of this approach, one will see how superficial and dismissive this understanding of the Gemara can be.

As a disclaimer, I am not arguing with Rashi, but based on my superficial understanding of his explanation of the Gemara, and how most people read this Gemara, I think a deeper discussion is warranted.

I find this explanation of the Gemara truly disheartening. If a student disagrees with his or her teacher (or is too lazy to follow their guidance), that student should remove themselves from their teacher and any further teaching/constructive criticism the teacher may offer in the future?!?! And, the explanation given as to why this is a good idea is so the student should only not be listening to their teacher through negligence instead of an outright contrarian attitude.

Who does this help? We are basically saying that a member of the Jewish people who has, essentially, lost their desire to follow the Torah in the way their teacher has guided them should just go somewhere else and do the wrong thing and leave everyone else alone. But, its ok because they will only be doing the wrong thing because they forgot what they were taught (and are negligent). That seems much better than being close to a possible source of guidance who they will fight against.

This is a defeatist attitude and means Rashi is telling us that when someone argues and doesn't want to listen, you write them off as a lost soul. Do not engage with them, they will never discuss or come back once lost. It is over and better they just be negligent instead of belligerent.

This is how I understand this Rashi and it bothers me.

My understanding of the Gemara is different than what Rashi explains. See, Rashi gives us two choices, either you listen to your teacher and follow the rules, or you don't and you are transgressing the laws deliberately. However, there is another option. When the Braaisa says you should not live near your teacher and the Gemara says this is in a situation where you will not listen to him, why can't the Gemara mean that you should go find a different teacher that you will listen to?

In fact, the Gemara brings up the case of Shlomo hamelech (King Solomon) as an example for why you should live near your teacher. Shlomo did not marry the princess of Egypt as long as his teacher was alive. Why? Because it was the wrong thing to do and it eventually led him to pursue bad deeds, as the scripture tells us (Kings 1 Chapter 11):

King Shlomo loved many foreign women in addition to Pharaoh's daughter – Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Phoenician and Hittite women from the nations of which God had said to the Children of Israel, “Do not join them and they should not join you, lest they divert your heart away to follow their gods.” Such Shlomo clung to and loved. He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned his heart astray. In his old age, his wives caused his heart to stray after other gods, and he was not wholeheartedly devoted to God as his father David had been. 
This shows us that having a guide, such as a teacher, helps prevent a person from pursuing actions that will be negative for them. Obviously, if you have a teacher that you will not listen to, that won't help prevent you from pursuing bad deeds, or other counterproductive activities. However, the answer to not listening to your teacher is not leaving them and performing bad deeds in their absence, the answer is go find someone who can help guide you!

Similarly, there is a Gemara in Kiddushin 40a that states:

אמר רבי אלעאי הזקן אם רואה אדם שיצרו מתגבר עליו ילך למקום שאין מכירין אותו וילבש שחורים ויתכסה שחורים ויעשה כמו שלבו חפץ ואל יחלל שם שמים בפרהסיא
Rabbi Ilai the Elder says: If a person sees that his evil inclination is overcoming him, he should go to a place where he is not known, and wear black clothes, and he should cover himself in simple black garments, and he should do as his heart desires, but he should not desecrate the name of Heaven in public. 
This Gemara seems to agree with Rashi's explanation of our Gemara, if a person can't help it, then he or she can just go sin, as long as they leave the rest of us alone and don't embarrass us.

However, Tosfos on this Gemara explains:

ויעשה מה שלבו חפץ - פי' ר"ח ח"ו שהותר לו לעבור עבירה אלא כך אמר ר' אלעאי יגיעת דרכים והאכסנאות ולבישת שחורים משברים יצר הרע ומונעים אדם מן העבירה.:
And he should do what his heart desires: The Rach (I think Rabbeinu Chenanel) explains, Heaven forbid that [Rabbi Ilai] is permitting for him to transgress a sin, rather he is saying that the travails of traveling and staying at inns, combined with wearing black clothes, will break the evil inclination and prevent him from carrying out the sin.
This is a fundamentally different way of approaching the problem. We know that people are not perfect and have desires that cause sin. Instead of writing them off, we offer advice to help them overcome the difficulties. 

Now, these approaches can apply to help those who are sinning AND it can be applied to how we view the sinner. In a situation where a person is truly struggling and trying not to sin, this is advice for them. The sinner needs the extra steps they can take which may help prevent themselves from carrying out the misdeed. However, the situation where a person is defiant and does not want to follow their teacher needs to be told, not to stay away from their teacher, but to find a new one. This is how the person themselves should view these Gemaras. 

The community should view these people as people who need aid. The sinner who cannot control themselves and needs to go sin, should be surrounded with a loving teacher and friends. If this person lives near their Rabbi, then their Rabbi can help prevent them from going to sin. However, in the situation where one does not respect or listen to their Rabbi, the answer is not to just go away. The answer is this person needs to find a community and a teacher that can relate to that person, so the sinner will respect the Rabbi! That is why we have so many Rabbis! There are many different types of people out there with different needs and points of view. To just give up on someone is a problem.

Unfortunately, I think we see Rashi's attitude all too frequently today. In the Jewish community there are many examples, but one important problem is schools that will not deal with children that fall "out of the box." This is a mistake! There are many things children with different "issues" can add to a school. Telling parents that their child has some behavior issues or needs extra help in certain areas and therefore they would be better served somewhere else, is heartbreaking. Children that need to go to public schools or less religious schools because of these factors is a problem.

I am not advocating compromising on religious values. However, I am advocating for a diversity in leadership and teachers that can deal with the diversity of personalities and issues in the modern orthodox community. Honestly, this is not just a modern orthodox problem, but all levels of Judaism. 


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Rambam- Yesodei HaTorah- Chapter 9 Halacha 4: Prophets Do Not Decide The Law, For 'It Is Not In Heaven!"

וכן אם עקר דבר מדברים שלמדנו מפי השמועה או שאמר בדין מדיני תורה שה' צוה לו שהדין כך הוא והלכה כדברי פלוני הרי זה נביא השקר ויחנק. אע"פ שעשה אות. שהרי בא להכחיש התורה שאמרה לא בשמים היא. אבל לפי שעה שומעין לו בכל:

So too, if the prophet contradicts something that we learned from an oral tradition or says one of the laws of the Torah is [a specific way] because G-D commanded him that the law is so and the law follows so-and-so's opinion, this is a false prophet and he should [be put to death] through strangulation. [This is true] even if he performs signs since he came to destroy the Torah, since it says(Devarim 30:12) "It is not in heaven." However, we listen to him with all [commandments that are to last] for a finite amount of time.

Why is it so bad for a prophet to tell us which Rabbi to side with? He is not telling us a new law, only telling us which one of the Rabbis is favored by G-D. Why should this lead to him being put to death? One answer is given by the Maamer Mordechai:

לא בשמים היא וכו'. נ"ב אין להקשות ממ"ש בריש הפרק ויאמר שה' שלחו להוסיף מצוה וכו' דמשמע דוקא כשבא להוסיף או לגרוע הוא דנקרא נביא השקר אבל באומר הלכה כפלוני (דאיהו) [דאינו] מוסיף ולא גורע לא דהא גם הכא הוי שינוי דהא כיון דכתיב לא בשמים היא א"כ גם אינה בשמים להכריע הדין עם מי וא"כ כשזה בא ואמר הלכה כפלוני ואומר שה' שלחו א"כ נמצא דמכחיש כתוב דכתיב לא בשמים היא והכי דייקי דברי רבינו ז"ל ועיין בכ"מ ובפר"ח ודוק.

It is not in heaven, etc: This requires explanation. One should not ask based on what it says in the beginning of the chapter "The [false prophet] will say that G-D sent him to add a law, etc." That this seems to imply specifically when the [false prophet] tries to add or take away [a law] that he is called a false prophet, but if he says the law follows so-and-so, that [the false prophet] is not adding or taking away [a law, he is] not [put to death.]   This [is faulty reasoning] because [a prophet telling us which Rabbi to follow] is a change [from normative Jewish practice] because it is written (Devarim 30:12) "It is not in Heaven." Therefore, it is not in heaven to decide who the law follows. If so, when this [prophet] comes and tells us, "The law is like so-and-so," and he says, "G-D sent me," we find that he is extinguishing the verse that writes (ibid), "It is not in heaven." This is the reasoning of the [Rambam]. 

The Torah tells us that no one is allowed to add laws or subtract laws from the list of commandments. However, the verse (Devarim 4:2) "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you," only tells us that the prophet is not allowed to come and make up a new commandment. From where do we know that their status as a prophet has no authority over us in any matters of permanent law? That comes from the verse (Devarim 30:12) of "It is not in heaven." This verse teaches us that once the Torah was given, the Rabbis now have authority over the law and not G-D. Human logic and reasoning is how we decide matters and not through divine intervention. This is a foundational principle of Judaism and must be understood. The majority rules what is law, not G-D. As demonstrated in Babba Matzia 59b by the oven of Aknai as was described in the previous mishna.    

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Rambam- Yesodei HaTorah- Chapter 9 Halacha 3: To What Extent Must We Listen To The New Prophet

וכן נביא שעבר על דברי עצמו והכובש נבואתו חייב מיתה בידי שמים ובשלשתן נאמר אנכי אדרוש מעמו. וכן אם יאמר לנו הנביא שנודע לנו שהוא נביא לעבור על אחת מכל מצות האמורות בתורה או על מצות הרבה בין קלות בין חמורות לפי שעה מצוה לשמוע לו. וכן למדנו מחכמים ראשונים מפי השמועה בכל אם יאמר לך הנביא עבור על דברי תורה כאליהו בהר הכרמל שמע לו חוץ מעבודת כוכבים. והוא שיהיה הדבר לפי שעה. כגון אליהו בהר הכרמל שהקריב עולה בחוץ וירושלים נבחרת לכך והמקריב בחוץ חייב כרת. ומפני שהוא נביא מצוה לשמוע לו וגם בזה נאמר אליו תשמעון. ואילו שאלו את אליהו ואמרו לו היאך נעקור מ"ש בתורה פן תעלה עולותיך בכל מקום. היה אומר לא נאמר אלא המקריב בחוץ לעולם חייב כרת כמו שצוה משה. אבל אני אקריב היום בחוץ בדבר ה' כדי להכחיש נביאי הבעל. ועל הדרך הזאת אם צוו כל הנביאים לעבור לפי שעה מצוה לשמוע להם. ואם אמרו שהדבר נעקר לעולם מיתתו בחנק שהתורה אמרה לנו ולבנינו עד עולם:

So too, a prophet that transgresses his own instructions and the [prophet] that suppresses his prophecy, [they] are sentenced to death by the heavenly court. By all three (A regular person that does not listen to the prophet, a prophet that does not listen to himself, and a prophet that suppresses his own prophecy) it says (Devarim 18:19) "I will interrogate him." This is true even if a prophet, who is known to us to be a true prophet (he has already been proven to be a prophet), tells us to transgress one of the [613] commandments that are stated in the Torah or [if he tells us to transgress] many [commandments] regardless of whether they are easy [commandments to keep] or difficult [commandments to keep], [as long as it is only for] a finite amount of time, it is a commandment to listen to him. 

So too, we learned an oral tradition from the earlier Rabbis that, with regard to all things except idol worship, if the prophet tells us to transgress the words of the Torah, similar to how Eliyahu [transgressed commandments] by the Mount Carmel incident, we listen to him. [However,] it must be a temporary [change], similar to Eliyahu at Mount Carmel when he brought a burnt offering outside [of the Temple in Jerusalem] and [the Temple] in Jerusalem had already been chosen for [the area to bring sacrifices], and [the law states] that anyone who brings a sacrifice outside [of the Temple (once it has been designated)] is [punished] by being spiritually cut off from the nation.   [Nevertheless,] because he is a prophet it is a commandment to listen to him [even if his statements contradict the Torah in this temporary fashion] since [in a situation such as] this it states (Devarim 18:15) "You shall listen to him."

If it would have been asked to Eliyahu and said to him "How could you uproot that which is written in the Torah (Devarim 12:13) '[Do not] offer sacrifices in every place.'" He would have responded, "This commandment was only referring to one who continuously sacrifices outside [of the Temple who] will be spiritually cut off from the nation, as Moshe had commanded. However, I only brought a sacrifice today outside [of the Temple] according to the word of G-D in order to destroy the [false] prophets of the Baal." In this regard, if any of the prophets command us to transgress [a commandment other than idol worship] for a finite amount of time, it is a commandment to listen to them. [However,] if they say [a commandment] is permanently uprooted they are put to death by strangulation, since the Torah states (Devarim 29:28), "For us and our children, forever."   

One important implication we can glean from this Halacha is that a prophet that is going to change one of the commandments, even though it is only for a finite period of time, must be directly commanded by G-D to do this. As Eliyahu states (Kings 1 18:16):

וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּעֲל֣וֹת הַמִּנְחָ֗ה וַיִּגַּ֞שׁ אֵלִיָּ֣הוּ הַנָּבִיא֮ וַיֹּאמַר֒ יְהוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָם֙ יִצְחָ֣ק וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַיּ֣וֹם יִוָּדַ֗ע כִּֽי־אַתָּ֧ה אֱלֹהִ֛ים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַאֲנִ֣י עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ ובדבריך [וּבִדְבָרְךָ֣] עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ 

When it was time to present the meal offering, the prophet Elijah came forward and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel! Let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding.

A prophet must listen to the word of G-D and convey the message as instructed and we must follow him. However, the question arises, can a prophet infer other ideas from his prophecy or must he only repeat exactly what G-D has commanded? 

In the commentary on the Rambam named Avodat Hamelech on this Mishna it states:

ולפי דברינו יהיה כוונת רבנו לבאר דדוקא כשהנביא אומר כן בשם ה' כמו שאמר אליהו אבל אני אקריב היום בחוץ כדבר ה', משא"כ אם לא אמר כן בתורת נביא אלא בא לעשות סיג מעצמו לדבר תורה אף שהוא נביא מוחזק לא מהני ובעינן דוקא בי"ד לכך וכמ"ש בהל' ממרים
According to our words, the intention of our Rabbi (Rambam) is to explain that specifically when the prophet says [his commandment] in the name of G-D, like what Eliyahu said, "I offer this sacrifice today outside [of the Temple] according to the word of G-D." However, this is not true, [meaning we do not listen to him,] if he did not say it within the parameters of his prophecy, but rather as a way to make a fence around a Torah matter (biblical commandment) from [his own reasoning.] Even though he is an established prophet, this does not help (we do not have to listen to him), [rather,] we need the courts to [to make such a rule,] as is written [by the Rambam] in the laws of mamarim.
This is a very important point and a foundation of Jewish law. Prophets are not listened to because they are authority figures, but because they are simply repeating the word of G-D. Additionally, we only listen to them with regards to rebuke, that they are chastising us to follow the commandments, or if they tell us G-D is suspending or making an additional commandment for a FINITE amount of time. However, we DO NOT listen to a prophet to decide laws or to change any existing laws. We follow the majority of Rabbis to decide on the Torah laws. This is best illustrated in the story of the oven of Aknai where Rebbe Eliezar was arguing with the rest of the Rabbis in his day about whether the oven was pure or impure (Babba Metzia 59b):

חזר ואמר להם אם הלכה כמותי מן השמים יוכיחו יצאתה בת קול ואמרה מה לכם אצל ר"א שהלכה כמותו בכ"מ עמד רבי יהושע על רגליו ואמר (דברים ל, יב) לא בשמים היא מאי לא בשמים היא אמר רבי ירמיה שכבר נתנה תורה מהר סיני אין אנו משגיחין בבת קול שכבר כתבת בהר סיני בתורה (שמות כג, ב) אחרי רבים להטות אשכחיה רבי נתן לאליהו א"ל מאי עביד קוב"ה בההיא שעתא א"ל קא חייך ואמר נצחוני בני נצחוני בני

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it. A Divine Voice emerged from Heaven and said: Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion? Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written: “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of the phrase “It is not in heaven” in this context? Rabbi Yirmeya says: Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You already wrote at Mount Sinai, in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the halakha is not ruled in accordance with his opinion. The Gemara relates: Years after, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration? Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.   

The point of this mishna in the Rambam is to clarify how and when we are supposed to follow a prophet and when NOT to follow a prophet. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Rambam- Yesodei HaTorah- Chapter 9 Halacha 2: One Must Follow The New Prophet As Long As He Doesn't Contradict Jewish Law

א"כ למה נאמר בתורה נביא אקים להם מקרב אחיהם כמוך. לא לעשות דת הוא בא אלא לצוות על דברי התורה ולהזהיר העם שלא יעברו עליה. כמו שאמר האחרון שבהן זכרו תורת משה עבדי. וכן אם צונו בדברי הרשות כגון לכו למקום פלוני או אל תלכו. עשו מלחמה היום או אל תעשו. בנו חומה זו או אל תבנוה. מצוה לשמוע לו והעובר על דבריו חייב מיתה בידי שמים שנאמר והיה האיש אשר לא ישמע אל 
דברי הנביא אשר ידבר בשמי אנכי אדרוש מעמו:

If it is true [that this new prophet will not change any of the laws of Judaism] then why does it say in the Torah (Devarim 18:18) "I will establish someone like you (Moshe) for the [Jewish people] from among their midst?" [G-D is] not bringing forth [a new prophet] to make a [new] religion, only to [remind the people] of the commandments of the Torah and to warn the nation not to transgress them. Like it says in [the book] of the last [prophet] (Malachi 3:22) "Remember the Torah of Moshe, my servant." Additionally, if the [prophet]commands us with regard to a matter [that the Torah does not speak about], for example go to such and such place or do not go, or wage war today or do not wage war, or build this wall or do not build it, then it is a commandment to listen to him and anyone who transgresses his command is worthy of the death penalty from Heaven, for it says (Devarim 18:19) "And it will be the man that does not listen to the [new] prophet's words that are spoken in My name, I will interrogate him."  

The Rambam now tells us the authority of the new prophet and his use. A new prophet can not erase what had been previously established, he can only add additional ancillary commandments that, according to the Rambam's examples, are for that specific time and situation. This is keeping in line with the commandment that one is neither allowed to add or subtract from the Torah (Rambam Safer Shoftim in hilchos mamarim). The Rambam continuously makes this point to show that a true Torah observant Jew could never even consider christianity or Islam as this would require someone to believe that a later prophet is coming to essentially change the previous commandments. No matter what these "prophets" do, a Torah observant Jew can not believe them. The new prophet could perform great miracles or have convincing arguments, but nothing can change the previously established commandments.

This idea brings up one of the Rambam's main ideas (Yisodei Hatorah Perek 1 Mishna 11) "[G-D] never changes, since there is nothing that can cause Him to change."  The idea that a prophet would come along and tell the Jewish people that certain commandments in the Torah are no longer to be followed would go against this basic concept of the Rambam. G-D does not change, therefore, it is impossible within the Rambam's conception of G-D that the religion that G-D created could experience any permanent change. It must be that when the Torah was initially given by Moshe, it was complete and would never be significantly altered.

The main utility of a new prophet is to remind us of the true Torah laws and that we should keep them. The additional use is that they can help guide us in matters of current events that are transient in nature like whether we need to build up protection for a future assault or if that will be seen as an aggression (build a wall or not), avoid a specific area or leave a specific area because of a future calamity (do not go to a certain place or do go), or perform a preemptive strike on an enemy or not (wage war or not). These concepts would not be found in the Torah as they are only appropriate for a specific time period and the Torah only contains that which is eternal and not bound to specific time periods. For example, war strategy against the Romans is only relevant against the Romans. Once that kingdom is gone or before they exist, there is no reason to speak of them. However, the commandments about sacrifices are relevant in any generation that has a Temple (Beis hamikdash), that is relevant in the first temple period, second temple period and it will be relevant again during the third temple period.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Breaks In Tradition, Rabbinic Authority, and The Reasons For the Commandments

In Lawrence Schiffman's "Texts and Traditions: A Source Reader for the Study of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism." He brings up an idea about biblical interpretation that made me think about the oral tradition and whether it was a truly unbroken chain, given down from teacher to student, from Moses until today. First, let us look at the verses in the Torah that deal with the holiday of Succos (Vayikra 23:40-43):
מ  וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים, וַעֲנַף עֵץ-עָבֹת, וְעַרְבֵי-נָחַל; וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם--שִׁבְעַת יָמִים. 40 And you shall take on the first day fruit of the beautiful tree, branches of palm-trees, and leaves of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.
מא  וְחַגֹּתֶם אֹתוֹ חַג לַיהוָה, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי תָּחֹגּוּ אֹתוֹ. 41 And you shall celebrate a celebration unto the LORD seven days of the year; it is a statute forever, for generations; In the seventh month you shall celebrate it.
מב  בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; כָּל-הָאֶזְרָח, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, יֵשְׁבוּ, בַּסֻּכֹּת. 42 You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths;
מג  לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:  אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם. 43 In order that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

In the current tradition, we know that verse 40 is referring to the commandment of taking the Lulav
and Esrog. Therefore, we know these verses are teaching us that on Succos we have two main commandments, the taking of the Lulav with the Esrog and dwelling in booths. However, what if the interpretation of the verses was that the booths are to be made from the four species? What if these verses were all referring to only one commandment?

This is in fact what happened in the days of Ezra and Nechemia, at the beginning of the return of the exiles, according to Lawrence Schiffman. As it states in the book of Nechemia (8:14-17):

And they found written in the Torah that the Lord had commanded, by the hand of Moses, that the Children of Israel dwell in booths on the festival in the seventh month.

ידוַיִּמְצְאוּ כָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהֹוָה בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יֵשְׁבוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּסֻּכּוֹת בֶּחָג בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי:
15And that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, "Go out to the mountain and bring olive leaves and leaves of oil trees, myrtle leaves, date palm leaves, and leaves of plaited trees, to make booths, as it is written."

טווַאֲשֶׁר יַשְׁמִיעוּ וְיַעֲבִירוּ קוֹל בְּכָל עָרֵיהֶם וּבִירוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר צְאוּ הָהָר וְהָבִיאוּ עֲלֵי זַיִת וַעֲלֵי עֵץ שֶׁמֶן וַעֲלֵי הֲדָס וַעֲלֵי תְמָרִים וַעֲלֵי עֵץ עָבֹת לַעֲשׂת סֻכֹּת כַּכָּתוּב:
16And the people went forth and brought [these items] and made booths for themselves, each one on his roof and in their courts and in the courts of the House of God, and in the square of the Water Gate, and in the square of the Gate of Ephraim.

טזוַיֵּצְאוּ הָעָם וַיָּבִיאוּ וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם סֻכּוֹת אִישׁ עַל גַּגּוֹ וּבְחַצְרֹתֵיהֶם וּבְחַצְרוֹת בֵּית הָאֱלֹהִים וּבִרְחוֹב שַׁעַר הַמַּיִם וּבִרְחוֹב שַׁעַר אֶפְרָיִם:
17And all the congregation of the returnees from the captivity made booths and dwelt in the booths, for they had not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day, and there was exceedingly great joy.

יזוַיַּעֲשׂוּ כָל הַקָּהָל הַשָּׁבִים מִן הַשְּׁבִי | סֻכּוֹת וַיֵּשְׁבוּ בַסֻּכּוֹת כִּי לֹא עָשׂוּ מִימֵי יֵשׁוּעַ בִּן נוּן כֵּן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד הַיּוֹם הַהוּא וַתְּהִי שִׂמְחָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד:

First, in this story there is no mention of the lulav and esrog, which one would expect to find if they are discussing how great the observance of the holiday was. Second, in verse 15 it seems like all the materials they are gathering is only for the building of the Sukkah, not the lulav. Lastly, verse 14 uses the language of "finding," which is used when something new is discovered. Had they possessed a tradition of how to celebrate the Succos holiday, the verse would not have used the language of "finding." Therefore, the Rabbis of the time interpreted the verse as they saw fit, and that is why this holiday was, seemingly, celebrated without the commandment of lulav and esrog.

But, perhaps Lawrence Schiffman is incorrect and his analysis is off base. Nevertheless, there are other examples in the bible that appear to say the traditions of Judaism do not proceed from Moses onward in an unbroken fashion. For example, in Kings II (22:8-14) it says:

8And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, "I have found the Scroll of the Law in the house of the Lord," and Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it.

חוַיֹּאמֶר חִלְקִיָּהוּ הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל עַל שָׁפָן הַסֹּפֵר סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה מָצָאתִי בְּבֵית יְהֹוָה וַיִּתֵּן חִלְקִיָּה אֶת הַסֵּפֶר אֶל שָׁפָן וַיִּקְרָאֵהוּ:
9And Shaphan the scribe came to the king and brought back word to the king, and said, "Your servants have melted the silver that was found in the Temple, and they have given it into the hands of the foremen of the work who were appointed over the house of the Lord.

טוַיָּבֹא שָׁפָן הַסֹּפֵר אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיָּשֶׁב אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ דָּבָר וַיֹּאמֶר הִתִּיכוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ אֶת הַכֶּסֶף הַנִּמְצָא בַבַּיִת וַיִּתְּנֻהוּ עַל יַד עֹשֵֹי הַמְּלָאכָה הַמֻּפְקָדִים בֵּית יְהֹוָה:
10And Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, "Hilkiah the priest gave me a scroll," And Shaphan read it before the king.

יוַיַּגֵּד שָׁפָן הַסֹּפֵר לַמֶּלֶךְ לֵאמֹר סֵפֶר נָתַן לִי חִלְקִיָּה הַכֹּהֵן וַיִּקְרָאֵהוּ שָׁפָן לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ:
11And it was when the king heard the words of the scroll of the Law, that he rent his garments.

יאוַיְהִי כִּשְׁמֹעַ הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת דִּבְרֵי סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה ויִּקְרַע אֶת בְּגָדָיו:
Here again we have the language of "finding" which implies that some new information was presented. However, with this source we do not need to rely upon our own interpretation. The Radak explains what happened. Radak (verse 8):
ספר התורה מצאתי בבית ה׳. דרשו כי אחז שרף את התור׳ והטמינו מפניו ספר תורה אחת והטמינוהו תחת הנדבך ועכשיו מצא חלק׳ ספר התורה הזח ורחוק הוא זה שחזקיהו שבא אחריו שרבצ תורה בישראל איך לא הוציאו וכמה ספרי תורה הניח חזקיהו במיתו אלא מנשה מלך זמן רב שהרי מלך נ״ה שנה ועשה הרע בעיני ה׳ כתועבות הגוים ובנה מזבחות לע״ג בבית ה׳ ודוא השכיח התור׳ מישראל ואין פונה אליה כי כלם היו פונים אל האלהים אחרים ואל תקית הגוים ובנ״ה שנה נשתכחה התור׳
I found a Torah scroll in the house of G-D. The [background] explanation is that Achaz burnt the Torah and one torah scroll was hidden from him, out of sight. It was hidden under stone wall (or idolatrous temple area) and now Chilkiah found this torah scroll. This incident is difficult to understand, because Chizkiyahu, who came after [Achaz] disseminated Torah throughout Israel, so how could they not find this Torah. Also, how many Torahs did Chizkiyahu leave [in the midst of Israel] when he died? Rather, Menashe ruled for a long time, he was king for 55 years, and he did such evil in the eyes of G-D, like the wicked deeds of the nations, and built alters for idol worship. He caused Israel to abandoned the Torah and they did not turn to G-D, because all of them were turning to idols and to the ways of the nations. So, after 55 years, the Torah was forgotten. 
Here, we can see the Radak claiming that the tradition from Moses had been lost. Clearly, any oral tradition or explanation of the plain meaning of the written text was not found in these days. Thus, showing a broken link in the chain of a tradition from Moses.

This break in the link of tradition is not unique to biblical sources. In the Gemara, while speaking of the tradition of which plant is the Aravos (willow-branch) it states (Sukkah 44a):
 א׳׳ל ר׳ זירא לר׳ אבהו מי א״ר יוחנן הכי והא״ר יוחנן משום ר׳ נחוניא איש בקעת בית חורתן עשר נטיעות ערבה וניסוך המים הלכה למשה מסיני אשתומם כשעה חדא ואמר שכחום וחזרו ויסדום
R. Zera to R. Abbahu, Did R. Johanan really say this? Did R. Johanan not say in the name of R. Nehunya of the Plain of Beth Hawartan that ‘the law of the ten plants, the willow-branch and the water libation were given to Moses on Mount Sinai’? [The other] was appalled for a moment and then he answered, They were forgotten and then they were re-instituted.
Rashi here states:
  שכחום. בגלות בבל שכחו את התורה והמצות במקצת וזו נשכחה לגמרי.
They were forgotten: During the exile in Babylonia they forgot part of the Torah and the commandments and this [teaching of what the Aravos were] was completely forgot.
This idea is stated in other places in the Gemara as well. The following example is a discussion of when to use the closed form vs the open form of a letter (like a mem sofit vs a regular mem) (Shabbos 104a):
לא הוה ידעין הי באמצע תיבה הי בסוף תיבה ואתו צופים תקנינהו ואכתי אלה המצות שאין הנביא רשאי לחדש דבר מעתה אלא שכחום וחזרו ויסדום
People did not know which form came in the middle of a word and which one at the end, and the Watchmen came and ordained that the open forms should be in the middle of a word and the closed forms at the end. Still, [the text states] ‘these are the commandments’, which implies that no prophet is permitted to introduce an innovation hereafter? Rather, [we must say] this law [was in fact from heaven, but] was forgotten and the Watchmen established them again.
The point of this is to show that there is no unbroken chain from Moses to us with regards to the oral Torah. In fact, there are very few laws that were given over to Moses from Sinai. That is why the Gemara only has certain laws that we say they were a Halacha L'Moshe Mi'Sinai (A law given to Moses at Sinai from G-D). The rest of the laws are derived from logical discourse of the Rabbis.

There is no better illustration of this than the story of the Oven of Aknai (Babba Metzeia 59b) where there was a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Rabbis:
וזה הוא תנור של עכנאי מאי עכנאי אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל שהקיפו דברים כעכנא זו וטמאוהו תנא באותו היום השיב רבי אליעזר כל תשובות שבעולם ולא קיבלו הימנו אמר להם אם הלכה כמותי חרוב זה יוכיח נעקר חרוב ממקומו מאה אמה ואמרי לה ארבע מאות אמה אמרו לו אין מביאין ראיה מן החרוב חזר ואמר להם אם הלכה כמותי אמת המים יוכיחו חזרו אמת המים לאחוריהם אמרו לו אין מביאין ראיה מאמת המים חזר ואמר להם אם הלכה כמותי כותלי בית המדרש יוכיחו הטו כותלי בית המדרש ליפול גער בהם רבי יהושע אמר להם אם תלמידי חכמים מנצחים זה את זה בהלכה אתם מה טיבכם לא נפלו מפני כבודו של רבי יהושע ולא זקפו מפני כבודו של ר״א ועדיין מטין ועומדין חזר ואמר להם אם הלכה כמותי מן השמים יוכיחו יצאתה בת קול ואמרה מה לכם אצל ר״א שהלכה כמותו בכ״מ עמד רבי יהושע על רגליו ואמר לא בשמים היא מאי לא בשמים היא אמר רבי ירמיה שכבר נתנה תורה מהר סיני אין אנו משגיחין בבת קול שכבר כתבת בהר סיני בתורה אחרי רבים להטות
This was the oven of 'Aknai.  Why Aknai? Rav Yehuda said in Samuel's name: [It means] that they encompassed it with arguments as a snake, and proved it unclean. It has been taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but they did not accept them. He said to them: 'If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob tree prove it!' Thereupon the carob tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place. Others say, four hundred cubits. 'No proof can be brought from a carob tree,' they retorted. Again he said to them: 'If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!' Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards. 'No proof can be brought from a stream of water,' they rejoined argued. Again he urged: 'If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,' whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R. Joshua rebuked them, saying: 'When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, how can you interfere?' So they did not fall, in honor of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing this way. Again he said to them: 'If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!' Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: 'Why do you dispute R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him?!' But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: 'It is not in heaven.' What did he mean by this? R. Jeremiah said: The Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because you have already written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline.
This story teaches us something incredible, that it doesn't matter what G-D originally intended for the Halacha to be, rather it only matters how the Rabbis interpret the Torah. The tradition that we have is not an unbroken chain of what G-D said to Moses, but of the leadership of the Rabbis telling us what they think the law should be based on the written word using their logic.

This idea is not new, in fact, it is stated straight out in the bible itself (Devarim 17:9-11):

And you shall come to the Levitic kohanim and to the judge who will be in those days, and you shall inquire, and they will tell you the words of judgment.

טוּבָאתָ אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם וְאֶל הַשֹּׁפֵט אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְהִגִּידוּ לְךָ אֵת דְּבַר הַמִּשְׁפָּט:
10And you shall do according to the word they tell you, from the place the Lord will choose, and you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you.

יוְעָשִׂיתָ עַל פִּי הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ מִן הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהֹוָה וְשָׁמַרְתָּ לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ:
11According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left.

יאעַל פִּי הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ וְעַל הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֲשֶׁר יֹאמְרוּ לְךָ תַּעֲשֶׂה לֹא תָסוּר מִן הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל:
Rashi on verse 11 here even tells us (from
either right or left,: Even if this judge tells you that right is left, and that left is right. How much more so, if he tells you that right is right, and left is left!- [Sifrei]ימין ושמאל: אפילו אומר לך על ימין שהוא שמאל ועל שמאל שהוא ימין, וכל שכן שאומר לך על ימין ימין ועל שמאל שמאל:

To further drive home this point, I will bring in the Rambam in the Sefer HaMitzvos (312th negative commandment):
The 312th prohibition is that we are forbidden from disagreeing with the Sages who pass down the Oral Tradition (may they rest in peace), or from deviating from any of their instructions in Torah matters. The source of this prohibition is G‑d's statement (exalted be He), "Do not stray from the word that they declare to you."
And the 174th positive commandment:
The 174th mitzvah is that we are commanded to obey the Beis Din HaGadol and act in accordance with all their instructions regarding what is prohibited and what is permitted. There is no difference whether it is something they received by Oral Tradition; derived using one of the principle of Torah extrapolation; decreed in order to correct some laxity or in response to some other situation where they found it appropriate and that it would strengthen Torah observance. We are required to obey all such directives and to act in accordance with their words, not to transgress them.The source of this commandment is G‑d's statement (exalted be He), "You must keep the Torah as they interpret it for you [and follow the laws that they legislate for you]."

The Rambam is telling us that the Rabbis are the keepers of the tradition and that, although there is no unbroken chain for all the laws, there is an unbroken tradition of following the great Rabbis of the generation. Those are our leaders and they are the ones we must follow.

Still, why would G-D set up our religion in this manner? Are we not looking for the truth? Don't we want to know what G-D actually said to Moses? This setup seems to be telling us that G-D's original intention when giving the commandments to Moses is irrelevant. So then, what is the purpose of giving the Jewish people the commandments?

There is an argument in Babba Metzeia (115a) that is based on whether the commandents have reasons behind them (like to make us better people) or if they are just for us to perform because G-D told us to perform them:
 אלמנה בין שהיא ענייה בין שהיא עשירה אין ממשכנין אותה שנאמר לא תחבול  בגד אלמנה: גמ' ת״ר אלמנה בין שהיא ענייה בין שהיא עשירה אין ממשכנין אותה דברי ר׳ יהודה ר״ש אומר עשירה ממשכנין אותה ענייה אין ממשכנין אותה שאתה חייב להחזיר לה ואתה משיאה שם רע בשכנותיה למימרא דר׳ יהודה לא דריש טעמא דקרא ור״ש דריש טעמא דקרא והא איפכא שמעינן להו דתניא ולא ירבה לו נשים ר׳ יהודה אומר מרבה הוא ובלבד שלא יהו מסירות את לבו ר״ש אומר אפילו אחת והיא מסירה את לבו ה״ז לא ישאנה א״כ מה ת״ל ולא ירבה לו נשים אפילו כאביגיל לעולם ר׳ יהודה לא דריש טעמא דקרא ושאני הכא דמפרש קרא ולא ירבה לו נשים ולא יסור מאי טעמא לא ירבה לו נשים משום דלא יסור ור״ש מכדי בעלמא דרשינן טעמא דקרא לכתוב רחמנא לא ירבה ולא בעינן לא יסור ואנא ידענא מאי טעמא לא ירבה משום דלא יסור לא יסור דכתב רחמנא למה לי אפילו אחת ומסירה את לבו הרי זה לא ישאנה:
MISHNAH. A MAN MAY NOT TAKE A PLEDGE FROM A WIDOW, WHETHER SHE BE RICH OR POOR, FOR IT IS WRITTEN, THOU SHALT NOT TAKE A WIDOW'S RAIMENT TO PLEDGE. GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: Whether a widow is rich or poor, no pledge may be taken from her: this is R. Judah's opinion. R. Simeon said: A wealthy widow we take pledges from, but not a poor one, for you are bound to return [the pledge] to her, and you bring her into disrepute among her neighbors. Now, shall we say that R. Judah does not interpret the reason of the Writ (reason for the commandments), while R. Simeon does? But we know their opinions to be the reverse. For we learned: Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, [that his heart turn not away]; R. Judah said: He may multiply [wives], providing that they do not turn his heart away. R. Simeon said: He may not take to wife even a single one who is likely to turn his heart away; what then is taught by the verse, Neither shall he multiply wives to himself? Even such as Abigail! In truth, R. Judah does not Interpret the reason of Scripture; but here it is different, because Scripture itself states the reason: Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, and his heart shall not turn away. Thus, why ‘shall he not multiply wives to himself’? So ‘that his heart turn not away.’ And R. Simeon [argues thus]: Let us consider. As a general rule, we interpret the Scriptural reason: then Scripture should have written, ‘Neither shall he multiply [etc.].’ but ‘and his heart shall not turn away’ is superfluous, for I would know myself that the reason why he must not multiply is that his heart may not turn away. Why then is ‘shall not turn away’ [explicitly] stated? To teach that he must not marry even a single one who may turn his heart.
Here, the Gemara is introducing us to a fundamental argument, do the commandments have underlying LOGICAL reasons? Rebbe Shimon believes they do and Rebbe Yehuda does not. This leads to a statement made by Rambam (The Guide for The Perplexed in Part 3 Chapter 48):
When in the Talmud (Ber. p. 33b) those are blamed who use in their prayer the phrase, "Thy mercy extendeth to young birds," it is the expression of the one of the two opinions mentioned by us, namely, that the precepts of the Law have no other reason but the Divine will. We follow the other opinion [that the Laws have reasons].
The Rambam is telling us that, as a general rule, we follow the commandments and interpret them with the idea that they have underlying reasons, not just that G-D told us to do them. This is further elucidated by the Rambam (Guide for the perplexed Part 3 Chapter 31 Friedlander translation):
 There are persons who find it difficult to give a reason for any of the commandments, and consider it right to assume that the commandments and prohibitions have no rational basis whatever...  On the contrary, the sole object of the Law is to benefit us. Thus we explained the Scriptural passage, "for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day" (Deut. vi. 24). Again, "which shall hear all those statutes (uḳḳim), and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" (ibid. iv. 6). He thus says that even every one of these "statutes" convinces all nations of the wisdom and understanding it includes. But if no reason could be found for these statutes, if they produced no advantage and removed no evil, why then should he who believes in them and follows them be wise, reasonable, and so excellent as to raise the admiration of all nations? But the truth is undoubtedly as we have said, that every one of the six hundred and thirteen precepts serves to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion, to establish proper relations in society, to diminish evil, to train in good manners or to warn against bad habits. All this depends on three things: opinions, morals, and social conduct. We do not count words, because precepts, whether positive or negative, if they relate to speech, belong to those precepts which regulate our social conduct, or to those which spread truth, or to those which teach morals. Thus these three principles suffice for assigning a reason for every one of the Divine commandments.
 The commandments are there to make us morally, socially and emotionally better people. This is why the Rabbis are given such great power over the law, because they are supposed to guide us as to how best to understand the laws in a way that will improve us and update our morals and social constructs with an evolving society. The best example of the Rabbis doing this can be found in the Gemara in Babba Kamma (83b):
אמאי?  עין תחת עין אמר רחמנא אימא עין ממש לא סלקא דעתך דתניא יכול סימא את עינו מסמא את עינו קטע את ידו מקטע את ידו שיבר את רגלו משבר את רגלו ת״ל מכה אדם ומכה בהמה מה מכה בהמה לתשלומין אף מכה אדם לתשלומין ואם נפשך לומר הרי הוא אומר לא תקחו כופר לנפש רוצח אשר הוא רשע למות לנפש רוצח אי אתה לוקח כופר אבל אתה לוקח כופר לראשי אברים שאין חוזרין
Why [pay compensation]? Does the Divine Law not say ‘Eye for eye’? Why not take this literally to mean [putting out] the eye [of the offender]? — Let not this enter your mind, since it has been taught: You might think that where he put out his eye, the offender's eye should be put out, or where he cut off his arm, the offender's arm should be cut off, or again where he broke his leg, the offender's leg should be broken. [Not so; for the Torah] comes to teach , ‘He that smiteth any man. . .’ ‘And he that smiteth a beast . . .’ just as in the case of smiting a beast compensation is to be paid, so also in the case of smiting a man compensation is to be paid. And should this [reason] not satisfy you, note that it is stated, ‘Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer, that is guilty of death’, implying that it is only for the life of a murderer that you may not take ‘satisfaction’, whereas you may take ‘satisfaction’ [even] for the principal limbs, though these cannot be restored.’
Here we see the Rabbis using one of the logical principles for biblical exegesis to teach that a barbaric act, taking an eye for an eye, should not be followed. They instead reinterpret the verse in a non-literal way in order to morally improve this law. This could only be done if we believe that there are reasons for the commandments, because then man can use his logic to try and figure out the reason. With the goal being moral, social and emotional improvement, that Rambam tells us, the Rabbis can then interpret the law following these guidelines.  (Also, other laws that point out this idea are multiple wives and slavery that are no longer acceptable in Judaism)

Lastly, I want to share the words of the Meiri in his Sefer Hamidos: 
Fulfilling the Mitzvos (Commandments) with the intent that they are being performed to serve the creator is sufficient for the masses and the nation. However, it is proper for individuals to try and understand all that is possible, according to their capabilities, [with regard to what are the reason for the Mitzvos]. As it says in Psalms (119:66), "Teach me good reason and knowledge; for I have believed in Your Mitzvos (commandments)." What [Psalms] means is that even though I believe in Your Mitzvos and I fulfill all of the Torah, I request to know the reason and wisdom [behind] them. This is not in order to doubt the witnesses that have testified that these Mitzvos are true, because I already believe in them. Also, my belief (emunah) does not rely on the study of these things to the extent that if I found a good connection I would believe or if I found something I considered a lie I would deny them, because this is Kefira (Heresy) and a removal of the religion completely.
The Meiri points out that the most learned of the people (aka the Rabbis) should try and understand the reasons behind the commandments. The reason for this is clear now, the Rabbis need to understand the reasons for the commandments in order for them to interpret the law appropriately. The oral tradition is based on the guiding principle that the Rabbis will lead us to a morally, socially and emotionally improved law. There is no unbroken tradition that teaches us what G-D actually said at Sinai, because it doesn't matter. Lo bashamayim hi, it is not in heaven. The Rabbis are here to guide us in the principles of Judaism through the laws that they interpret in a manner that is forever being tweaked based on our improved understanding of the reasons for the commandments. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Does the Story of Yehuda and Tamar Interrupt the Narrative on Yosef

(Translations from
In this week's parsha we have the sale of Yosef, the incident of Yehuda with Tamar and then the situation of Yosef with Potifar's wife. A question to ask is why does the story of Yosef's sale get interrupted by Yehuda's shameful story (that seems to have nothing to do with the overall narrative) and then immediately following Yehuda's story we continue the narrative of Yosef by the incident with potifar's wife? Do all three stories really have a lot more to do with one another than it looks like or are they unrelated?

First, we must understand the relationship between Yehuda and Yosef. Yehuda led the brothers to sell Yosef into slavery because, at this point, HE was the leader of the brothers. This can clearly be seen (Genesis 37:26-27),
26And Judah said to his brothers, "What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood?
כו. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה אֶל אֶחָיו מַה בֶּצַע כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת אָחִינוּ וְכִסִּינוּ אֶת דָּמוֹ:

27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh." And his brothers hearkened.

כז. לְכוּ וְנִמְכְּרֶנּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים וְיָדֵנוּ אַל תְּהִי בוֹ כִּי אָחִינוּ בְשָׂרֵנוּ הוּא וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶחָיו:
Therefore, in essence, he was responsible for whatever happened to Yosef. In light of this, we can say that Yehuda was blamed for Yosef's sale (or death) by his father and his brothers. Yehuda came up with the sale AND the lie, as it says (Genesis 37:32),
32And they sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought [it] to their father, and they said, "We have found this; now recognize whether it is your son's coat or not."לב. וַיְשַׁלְּחוּ אֶת כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל אֲבִיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ זֹאת מָצָאנוּ הַכֶּר נָא הַכְּתֹנֶת בִּנְךָ הִוא אִם לֹא:
The brothers state, later on by their trip to Egypt, how much they regret what they did to Yosef (Genesis 42:21), 
21And they said to one another, "Indeed, we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us."כא. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים | אֲנַחְנוּ עַל אָחִינוּ אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ צָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ בְּהִתְחַנְנוֹ אֵלֵינוּ וְלֹא שָׁמָעְנוּ עַל כֵּן בָּאָה אֵלֵינוּ הַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת:
This allows us to understand what happened to Yehuda. After the sale, the Torah tells us (Genesis 28:1),
1Now it came about at that time that Judah was demoted by his brothers, and he turned away until [he came] to an Adullamite man, named Hirah.א. וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא וַיֵּרֶד יְהוּדָה מֵאֵת אֶחָיו וַיֵּט עַד אִישׁ עֲדֻלָּמִי וּשְׁמוֹ חִירָה:
The brothers held Yehuda responsible for what they did and they were so distraught that they, essentially, banished him. 

Summing up what happened in the first "ACT" of this week's parsha we can see two main things. First, Yehuda was a leader that used his power to commit a grave sin. Secondly, instead of admitting to the sin, he created this elaborate lie to tell his father and had all of his brothers go along with it. So, the first part of this week's parsha focuses on Yehuda's failure to admit to a sin and this, as far as everyone knew, resulted in Yosef's death. As previously stated, this is why Yehuda was "outside of the camp" after the sale of Yosef.

The next "ACT" in this week's parsha is Yehuda's incident with Tamar, that he slept with her and gave her his signet ring and staff. This story does not, as some people think, come to embarrass Yehuda, but rather to exonerate him. 

In this occurrence we see Yehuda sin and have relations with a prostitute, as far as he knows (Genesis 38:15-16), 
15When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she covered her face.
טו. וַיִּרְאֶהָ יְהוּדָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לְזוֹנָה כִּי כִסְּתָה פָּנֶיהָ:

16So he turned aside toward her to the road, and he said, "Get ready now, I will come to you," for he did not know that she was his daughter in law, and she said, "What will you give me that you should come to me?"
טז. וַיֵּט אֵלֶיהָ אֶל הַדֶּרֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר הָבָה נָּא אָבוֹא אֵלַיִךְ כִּי לֹא יָדַע כִּי כַלָּתוֹ הִוא וַתֹּאמֶר מַה תִּתֶּן לִי כִּי תָבוֹא אֵלָי:
However, we see that when Tamar is suspected of sinning in a similar way, becoming pregnant with no husband, Yehuda is ready to condemn her to death (Genesis 38:24),
24Now it came about after nearly three months, that it was told to Judah, saying, "Your daughter in law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is pregnant from harlotry." So Judah said, "Bring her out, and let her be burned."כד. וַיְהִי | כְּמִשְׁלשׁ חֳדָשִׁים וַיֻּגַּד לִיהוּדָה לֵאמֹר זָנְתָה תָּמָר כַּלָּתֶךָ וְגַם הִנֵּה הָרָה לִזְנוּנִים וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה הוֹצִיאוּהָ וְתִשָּׂרֵף:
It seems a little strange that someone who sinned in a similar manner would be so fast to condemn another in a similar situation. But, this is just human nature. If someone sins in private then they are usually more likely to condemn that sin publicly than someone who is not even involved with that sin.

In any case, when Tamar sends Yehuda his signet ring and staff he immediately confesses to his sin and to Tamar's righteousness, the exact opposite of how he dealt with Yosef's sale (Genesis 38:25-26),
25She was taken out, and she sent to her father in law, saying, "From the man to whom these belong I am pregnant," and she said, "Please recognize whose signet ring, cloak, and staff are these?"
כה. הִוא מוּצֵאת וְהִיא שָׁלְחָה אֶל חָמִיהָ לֵאמֹר לְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אֵלֶּה לּוֹ אָנֹכִי הָרָה וַתֹּאמֶר הַכֶּר נָא לְמִי הַחֹתֶמֶת וְהַפְּתִילִים וְהַמַּטֶּה הָאֵלֶּה:

26Then Judah recognized [them], and he said, "She is right, [it is] from me, because I did not give her to my son Shelah." But he no longer continued to be intimate with her.
כו. וַיַּכֵּר יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר צָדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי כִּי עַל כֵּן לֹא נְתַתִּיהָ לְשֵׁלָה בְנִי וְלֹא יָסַף עוֹד לְדַעְתָּהּ:
In fact, this occurrence proves that Yehuda had done teshuva on his previous actions. By Yosef, Yehuda lied to his father by the sin, but by Tamar, even though it was the most embarrassing thing he could have done, he admitted to his misdeed. Yehuda showed that he had changed his ways and therefore was reaccepted by the brothers and, to this day, the leader of the Jewish people is supposed to come from Yehuda. Thus, the Yehuda type of leader is a leader that makes mistakes, but can admit to them and correct themselves when in error.

Yosef had a very different problem from the one Yehuda had, he was being pursued by his master's wife. However, Yosef never gave in to temptation and was sent to jail because of his integrity. It seems a little backwards here, Yehuda sinned by sleeping with a harlot and admitted to it and was thereby forgiven, but Yosef never gave in to a married woman and was punished for his celibacy? How does that work? 

The way I want to explain this is based on Rashi. Rashi says that Yosef, even in the house of Yaakov, would always make himself look nice and beautiful (Rashi Genesis 37:2),
and he was a lad: He behaved childishly, fixing his hair and touching up his eyes so that he would appear handsome. [From Gen. Rabbah 84:7]והוא נער: שהיה עושה מעשה נערות, מתקן בשערו ממשמש בעיניו, כדי שיהיה נראה יפה:
Basically, Yosef was a little vain, according to Rashi. This might have also been the source as to why Yosef told the brothers his dreams, because he was a little vain.

Later, we see that Yosef was in a household where the master's wife would always try to seduce him. Perhaps Yosef should not have been making himself look nice all the time and thereby Potifar's wife would have stopped pursuing him (Rashi Genesis 39:6),

and Joseph had handsome features: As soon as Joseph found himself [in the position of] ruler, he began eating and drinking and curling his hair. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: “Your father is mourning and you curl your hair! I will incite the bear against you.” Immediately afterwards“his master’s wife lifted up her eyes.” [from Tanchuma Vayeshev 8]ויהי יוסף יפה תואר: כיון שראה עצמו מושל, התחיל אוכל ושותה ומסלסל בשערו, אמר הקב"ה אביך מתאבל ואתה מסלסל בשערך, אני מגרה בך את הדוב מיד:

We see from here that, at this point, Yosef had not changed his ways, he was the same. Being sold into slavery never evoked a character change in Yosef. Yehuda, on the other hand, was able to realize his faults and do teshuva. This could be a possible explanation as to why all of these three stories are together and why Yosef was punished, but Yehuda was exonerated. These three stories teach us the power and importance of Teshuva. Yosef did not become humble and change his ways until after he was imprisoned, but Yehuda was able to change his ways once he realized his own hypocrisy.

This difference is seen in two different leaders later on in Tanach as well, King Saul and King David. King Saul had sinned by the war with Amalek by not listening to G-D and then denying his sin. As it says (Samuel 1 15:14-26),
14And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears? And the lowing of the oxen which I hear?"
יד. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל וּמֶה קוֹל הַצֹּאן הַזֶּה בְּאָזְנָי וְקוֹל הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ:

15And Saul said, "They brought them from the Amalekites, for the people had pity on the best of the sheep, and the oxen, in order to sacrifice to the Lord your God: and the rest we have utterly destroyed."
טו. וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל מֵעֲמָלֵקִי הֱבִיאוּם אֲשֶׁר חָמַל הָעָם עַל מֵיטַב הַצֹּאן וְהַבָּקָר לְמַעַן זְבֹחַ לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְאֶת הַיּוֹתֵר הֶחֱרַמְנוּ:

16And Samuel said to Saul, "Desist, and I shall tell you what the Lord spoke to me last night." And he said to him, "Speak."
טז. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל שָׁאוּל הֶרֶף וְאַגִּידָה לְּךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה אֵלַי הַלָּיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ דַּבֵּר:

17And Samuel said, "Even if you are small in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you as king over Israel.
יז. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל הֲלוֹא אִם קָטֹן אַתָּה בְּעֵינֶיךָ רֹאשׁ שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָתָּה וַיִּמְשָׁחֲךָ יְהֹוָה לְמֶלֶךְ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל:

18And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, 'Go, and you shall utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and you shall wage war against them until they destroy them.'
יח. וַיִּשְׁלָחֲךָ יְהֹוָה בְּדָרֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר לֵךְ וְהַחֲרַמְתָּה אֶת הַחַטָּאִים אֶת עֲמָלֵק וְנִלְחַמְתָּ בוֹ עַד כַּלּוֹתָם אֹתָם:

19Now, why did you not hearken to the voice of the Lord, but you flew upon the spoil, and you did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord?"
יט. וְלָמָּה לֹא שָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקוֹל יְהֹוָה וַתַּעַט אֶל הַשָּׁלָל וַתַּעַשׂ הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְהֹוָה:

20And Saul said to Samuel, "Yes, I did hearken to the voice of the Lord. I did go on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and I brought Agag, the king of Amalek alive, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.
כ. וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל אֶל שְׁמוּאֵל אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתִּי בְּקוֹל יְהֹוָה וָאֵלֵךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר שְׁלָחַנִי יְהֹוָה וָאָבִיא אֶת אֲגַג מֶלֶךְ עֲמָלֵק וְאֶת עֲמָלֵק הֶחֱרַמְתִּי:

21And the people took from the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the ban, to sacrifice to your God in Gilgal."
כא. וַיִּקַּח הָעָם מֵהַשָּׁלָל צֹאן וּבָקָר רֵאשִׁית הַחֵרֶם לִזְבֹּחַ לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּגִּלְגָּל:

22And Samuel said, "Has the Lord (as much) desire in burnt offerings and peace-offerings, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than a peace-offering; to hearken (is better) than the fat of rams.
כב. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל הַחֵפֶץ לַיהֹוָה בְּעֹלוֹת וּזְבָחִים כִּשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל יְהֹוָה הִנֵּה שְׁמֹעַ מִזֶּבַח טוֹב לְהַקְשִׁיב מֵחֵלֶב אֵילִים:

23For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Since you rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you from being a king."
כג. כִּי חַטַּאת קֶסֶם מֶרִי וְאָוֶן וּתְרָפִים הַפְצַר יַעַן מָאַסְתָּ אֶת דְּבַר יְהֹוָה וַיִּמְאָסְךָ מִמֶּלֶךְ:

24And Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned, for I transgressed the Lord's command, and your words, for I feared the people, and I hearkened to their voice.
כד. וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל אֶל שְׁמוּאֵל חָטָאתִי כִּי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת פִּי יְהֹוָה וְאֶת דְּבָרֶיךָ כִּי יָרֵאתִי אֶת הָעָם וָאֶשְׁמַע בְּקוֹלָם:

25And now, forgive now my sin, and return with me, and I shall prostrate myself to the Lord."
כה. וְעַתָּה שָֹא נָא אֶת חַטָּאתִי וְשׁוּב עִמִּי וְאֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לַיהֹוָה:

26And Samuel said to Saul, "I shall not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being a king over Israel."
כו. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל שָׁאוּל לֹא אָשׁוּב עִמָּךְ כִּי מָאַסְתָּה אֶת דְּבַר יְהֹוָה וַיִּמְאָסְךָ יְהֹוָה מִהְיוֹת מֶלֶךְ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל:
This is similar to Yosef. Saul was a humble person and because of his inability to control his humbleness he allowed himself to sin. Not only did he sin, but he denied the fact that he was doing the wrong thing. Yosef, too, could not even realize that beautifying himself was the wrong thing to do.

However, the story of Dovid shows someone who sinned, a terrible sin as is explained elsewhere on this blog (, was able to immediately repent when his errors are pointed out to him. He did not deny the sin, but immediately accepted the rebuke and changed because of it.

This is the lesson we must take away, Saul and Yosef were great people, but they could not understand where they were lacking. This is why Yosef not only was sold into slavery, but was then thrown into jail, and why Saul lost his kingship. However, Yehuda and Dovid committed even greater sins than Yosef or Saul, but because they were horrified and disappointed with themselves because of their sins they repented and kept or regained their leadership roles. This just shows how great the act of repentance is.